It’s the end of a long week, work has been stressful, your dog is mad at you for some reason, and the only thing you want to do is watch a heap of Netflix.
But alas, rather than the crystal clear quality stream you expected for your third rewatch of Beyoncé’s Homecoming, you’re going to have to put up with choppy playback and subpar quality where you can literally count the number of pixels on the screen.
Chances are that you’re far from the first person in Australia to experience this sort of thing with Netflix and the problem can be pinpointed to one big issue that the entire country has been grappling with for the last decade: our super-slow internet and the ongoing saga that is the NBN.
The NBN was first announced back in 2007 by then-PM Kevin Rudd and was to replace Australia’s slow and creaky internet with a high-speed broadband network that would’ve put our country in the upper echelons of speedy interweb access.
Of course, we’ve all seen how the NBN has ultimately unfolded in the 12 years since the letters “N”, “B”, and “N” left Rudd’s lips. Between leadership spills on both sides of the aisle, missed deadlines, billions of dollars, and more political wrangling than Game of Thrones, the original plan for the NBN gradually went from something amazing (on paper) to the fustercluck that some of us have now.
So without further ado, here’s a timeline of what went down with the NBN, starting with its announcement back in 2007.
Labor proposed their idea for the NBN, which would use “Fibre to the Node” (FTTN) technology to deliver super fast internet to 98% of Australia with a minimum speed of 12mbps at a cost of about $15 billion within five years.
In response, then-PM John Howard unveiled his own $2 billion broadband plan that will see built up areas get speeds up to 50mbps and 12mbps in rural areas.
Labor ended up winning the 2007 federal election and their initial NBN plan is underway.
The first request for proposal is submitted but the Global Financial Crisis hits like a freight train and it gets terminated in 2009.
After the first proposal gets scuttled, the Rudd government announces a new plan to construct a new national network using a combination of “fibre to the premises (FTTP)”, fixed wireless and satellite tech.
In layman’s terms, this new plan would’ve bypassed Australia’s old copper FTTN network and installed a new FTTP fibre-optic network that would deliver better speeds (up to 100mbps), be good for upgrades in the long-term, and fix any outstanding problems the old network had.
This new NBN plan was planned to reach 93% of Australia by June 2021 at a whopping cost of between $37-43 billion and NBN Co was set up to design, build, and handle the while thing.
In short, it was super ambitious and super expensive but Australia probably would’ve ended up with some crazy good internet had it panned out.
Work begins with the first customers in Tasmania connected in July as part of a trial rollout. However, trouble is afoot for Labor’s NBN plan as Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull vowed to throw a wrench into the works, arguing that it’s too expensive and no one needs internet faster than 12mbps anyway. To put that into perspective, you won’t be able to stream Netflix properly at that speed.
This is going to become a recurring narrative that’ll come back to bite everyone on the ass.
Work is continuing with the signing of agreements with Telstra and Optus to get onboard with the NBN.
The National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 was passed and it basically revolved around rules regarding how companies have to operate, transparency regarding information, and competition concerns.
Work is still going.
Malcolm really doubles down on his “Labor’s NBN is rubbish” schtick through the use of the following confusing analogy, “Don’t buy yourself a Camry, a Falcon – buy yourself a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley.”
For reasons only known to him, ol’ Malc later backtracks a little bit on his comments and says the Coalition will not tear down Labor’s NBN or anything sinister like that.
Hoo boy, it gets nasty during this period.
After the Coalition takes power following the 2013 federal election, Malcolm (who was Minister for Communications) immediately goes to work on dismantling Labor’s original NBN plan.
First he scuttled the original FTTP installation plan in favour of reusing a combination of Australia’s old FTTN network, fibre to the curb (FTTC) and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) in an approach called “Multi-Technology Mix” (MTM).
In other words, the Coalition said poo-poo on Labor’s plan to run fibre-optic cables to every house in favour of using Australia’s old copper network (with a small dash of fibre-optic cables) since it’ll be cheaper.
This also meant that the initial promised internet speed of 100mbps was downgraded to about 25mbps but ol’ Malc promised it will all get delivered sooner than Labor’s plan, a promise he walked back on just months later.
The Coalition’s own ideas for the NBN is official as it announces the cost of its MTM plan, which will cost “only” $29.5 billion and be completed by 2019.
Work is still going.
Ex-NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley spills the tea in a scathing critique of the Coalition’s MTM NBN plan, which at this point will now cost anywhere between $40 to $56 billion, and provided the receipts to back up his claims.
Okay, so the Coalition’s NBN plan is slower and more expensive than Labor’s NBN plan, but surely Australians will get it sooner? Well, not quite.
Work is still going.
Ol’ Malc becomes Prime Minister and new Minister of Communications Mitch Fifield takes over whatever is happening for on the NBN.
Speaking of NBN, some progress is being made on that front with the launch of two NBN satellites to provide internet to regional areas.
At this point, only around 2.9 million premises are able to connect to the NBN, a far cry from the 90-something percent of Australia promised from both Labor and the Coalition.
Work is still going.
A report by the Joint Standing Committee on the NBN is absolutely scathing and recommends a drastic refocus of the project.
Following an investigation from the ACCC into NBN speeds offered by Telstra, the telecoms giant offers compensation to 42,000 customers after delivering slower internet speeds than what it promoted.
In the midst of all the NBN criticism, ol’ Malc decides to pin the blame on Labor and conveniently all the things he did in 2013. Kevin Rudd responds by eloquently telling Malc that he was the one who “changed horse in mid-stream.”
Work is still going.
Malc gets flak for having The Lodge connected to highish-speed FTTC NBN while his neighbours get the old FTTN stuff.
Costs continue to balloon, with the price tag placed at around $51 billion in 2018.
The new MTM rollout deadline is now pushed to 2020 but even that seems like a mirage as only 10 million premises are able to connect to the NBN as of Q1 of 2019.
There’s almost no doubt the NBN will be a big talking point for the 2019 federal election.
Had the NBN happened under Labor’s original plan, it would’ve been wildly expensive and likely gone over-budget, and taken far longer than its initial 2021 completion date. But if it all worked – and it’s a big if – Australia would had up-to-date communications infrastructure and enough internet speed to give South Korea a run for its money.
Under the Coalition’s rejigged plan, what we got is a wildly expensive NBN that has gone over-budget (and is currently costing more than Labor’s plan) and taken longer than its initial 2019 completion date. On top of that, Australia’s communications infrastructure remains old and there will almost certainly problems down the line in the future and our internet speed currently ranks around 62nd in the world. We’re behind Kazakhstan but at least we’re ahead of Madagascar.
An expensive thing that works is still far better than an expensive thing that doesn’t and it seems like Australia has slotted into the latter category due to all the political shenanigans that have unfolded over the last decade.
However, the real losers here are the Australian people, many of whom are still waiting for their NBN to come. On a side note, I finally got NBN on April 2019 after nearly 10 years of waiting. My editor is still waiting for hers, sadly.